Although having been a presence on a plethora of albums by Merseyside musicians over the past decade – The Stands, Delta Maid and Cast – and releasing a trio of impressive solo LPs, STEVE PILGRIM is best known for his exacting work behind the drumkit for Paul Weller. As sticksman for The Modfather for the past six years, almost all of the aforementioned projects, and a score of other collaborations, have run concurrently with Steve’s time in the group. Somehow finding time amidst this hectic schedule to pursue his own interests, Steve also co-founded fundraising organisation BE ONE PERCENT in March 2011.
Based on a simple principle, the foundation asks its members to commit to giving one percent of their income each month to the project, which in turn passes it on to charities with which they are partnered. Growing organically largely by word of mouth and social media over the past three years, Be One Percent recently received a massive boost to its profile via a sold-out Paul Weller gig at East Village Arts Club to raise funds and awareness for the project.
“It started as an idea maybe four years ago and it began to gain momentum fairly steadily,” Steve explains sipping tea in a quiet MelloMello one weekday morning. “We gave our first pot of money three years ago and after about a year of doing it we had a certain number of members, and Paul asked ‘What’s this thing you’re doing?’ Paul had done a few gigs in the run-up to promoting the new album [More Modern Classics], so when it came to the possibility of doing a little charity gig for us he thought along the lines of doing another club gig in Liverpool, relatively low-key,” Steve says. In addition to the heightened profile in Liverpool and nationally as a result of the gig, the event quickly translated into more members joining the foundation and a windfall of £15,000 going straight into the coffers from the ticket sales.
Proof of Weller’s backing for the cause meanwhile was exemplified by him arranging the show himself, something Steve wasn’t entirely aware of to begin with. Indeed, the drummer was somewhat in the dark about the fixture until a few weeks before. “The first thing I knew about it was ‘Liverpool Charity Show TBC’ in the gig schedule that was sent out to me,” Steve recalls. “It didn’t say what it was for. Then maybe four weeks before the actual gig I got a text off Paul saying ‘Oh yeah, we’re doing that charity thing for Be One Percent, that should be a good one shouldn’t it?’ He didn’t even call me up about it, the first thing I knew about it was this text message!” Steve laughs. “It was really good of him to make it part of the schedule and include it as part of the tour, it was great. Paul and his wife Hannah have been massive supporters of what we’ve been doing.”
On the subject of stage work, the initial inspiration for Be One Percent arrived during a set of live dates. “I was on tour away from home staying in a really nice hotel,” Steve remembers. “I was just very aware of the kind of Western guilt that goes with knowing that I’m from a fortunate background, I’m lucky to have a job that pays well, and something was pricking at my conscience about that. I’d come across this bottled water company called One Water, an organisation that gives all of its profits towards providing clean water in Africa. They give it to a multitude of charities and they raise millions doing this, they’ve become a really big brand. I was thinking ‘This is a really good idea, how could it be transferred to other things?’ So I started to think about if it was a profit or a percentage thing from the sale of the bottled water, could you do that with anything?”
“I brought that idea back to Liverpool about four years ago and got chatting to a friend of mine, Matt Johnson, who’s a local businessman [and Be One Percent co-founder]. It was really with his encouragement that we put a group of people around a table who we thought would be good to advise us. In the first meeting someone said, ‘Well, one percent from products is all very good, but couldn’t you do that with people, couldn’t they say ‘I’m going to give one percent of my income?’’ It was that initial seed that grew into the concept of building a community of givers,” Steve says.
As a fundraising organisation, Be One Percent assigns the money generated to existing charities representing causes that the trustees feel should be highlighted. “There’re already a lot of organisations out there doing the work,” Steve states. “We thought if we fundraise we’ll make it our job to find the best organisations to give to. The way that we’ve modelled it is we all give one percent of our income together each month and then we use that money for a specific project: we get a charity to say we’ll use the money for this or this. It might be medical treatment, school meals or installing a new water point. Then we feed that back to our members and say ‘This is what your one percent has helped do this month’.”
The first project undertaken by the foundation in March 2011 saw eight members raise £166 for malaria treatments for over 300 people. As the number of members grew –with the current total standing at 174 – the organisation has funded 35 projects in 11 different countries. The most recent is dedicated to raising funds to establish the production of cooking stoves in TA Kalembo in the Balaka district of Southern Malawi, where the money will provide materials for building kilns, plus tools and training for manufacturing the stoves.
With a huge number of charities currently in operation in the UK and abroad, how does Be One Percent decide on which causes to back? “All of our partner organisations can’t be above a certain size, they have to have low running costs, low overheads, they can’t have big marketing budgets,” Steve explains. “They work internationally on big-scale things, but they’re not the mammoth Water Aids and Oxfams – those ones that get criticised for being too top heavy and having escalating marketing budgets and high senior staff budgets.”
The running costs of the foundation are set aside from the funds that go to the charities, something that was particularly important to the founders Steve explains. “Personally, I know that when I give to a charity, I wanna feel that as much of my money is doing something positive as possible, so we were really conscious of that when we were looking for our partners initially,” Steve emphasises. “We get the money ring-fenced by the charities we work with specifically, so we can say to people ‘One hundred percent of the money you give is going to the projects, nothing is going to the running costs’.”
With so many milestones already reached over the past three years, what’s next for the foundation? “We’re always looking for new organisations, to keep it fresh and be giving to a variety of different things,” Steve says of future plans. “The more diverse projects we have the more we’re spreading the wealth as much as possible.”
If you’d like to join Be One Percent’s network of giving, or you’d like to see the impact of the money raised in a community in Malawi, go to the organisation’s website now at beonepercent.org